Home / General / There Is No Right to be Exempt From Criticism

There Is No Right to be Exempt From Criticism


As part of her excellent take on the racist email send by a student at Harvard Law School, Jill identifies another excellent example of Sarah Palin’s theory of free speech, i.e. that the First Amendment means that your arguments can’t be criticized. In this case, the argument is that “we should be able to debate all issues rationally, vigorously and openly, without having to worry about offending anyone.” As Jill says, “part of the consequences of raising controversial (or idiotic) arguments is that people will become annoyed, angry or offended.” That’s what free speech, inside or outside an academic setting, means.   You have the right to express yourself, not to control the reactions of others.

Of course, the relentless invocations of “political correctness” are, in themselves, a means of stultifying debate. The underlying premise — made rather openly in this case — is that one should be able to express bigotry while being exempt from criticism that might make the person expressing the bigotry uncomfortable. And going along with this is the even sillier assumption that people who defend existing social privileges are the real iconoclasts. Please.

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  • Rick Massimo

    The same people who (rightly) excoriated Carol Mosely-Brown 15 or so years ago for claiming that there is a Constitutional right not to be offended are going a step farther than she did, and claiming a Constitutional right not to be told you’re offending someone.

  • CJColucci

    Years ago, when I was involved in a major free-speech case, a friend gave me a notepad imprinted with the slogan: “You have a right to your opinion. And everyone else has a right to laugh at you for it.”

  • Randy

    This is an example of the thinking I call the Redneck Corollary to the First Amendment: I have the right to use ethnic slurs and tell offensive racial jokes. You do not have the right to call me out on it.

  • DrDick

    Conservatives are all for unlimited free speech for them. You on the other hand need to watch what you say. I still remember their desire to curb the speech of folks who oppose the clusterfuck in Iraq and other Bushevik policies.

  • jon

    This relates directly to the difficulty of establishing any actual, fully formed thought and argument in Palin’s utterances, also.

  • Some of the defenses of the comment have been, well, what’s the word I’m looking for….

    A number of defenders and partial defenders of the comment (see, e.g., the Volokh Conspiracy) seem to focus on the “chilling effect” of the response to the comment. Law students should feel free to argue on controversial subjects, saying one stupid thing shouldn’t ruin your life. As abstract principles, and even to a degree in this case, those points are correct.

    Somebody sent emails to a couple of the Volokh conspirators claiming to be an incoming Harvard law student confused about what to say if confronted with an unreasonable demand to disprove an inflammatory assertion: “I have no idea what I would say if someone asked me if I could categorically rule out the possibility that there was a correlation between race and IQ” and “I have no idea what I would say if someone asked me if I could categorically rule out the possibility that Jews tend to be greedy moneylenders”. (Is it just me, or is it “not that hard” to formulate responses to those demands, many of which are even polite?)

    Dare I suggest, were the comment at issue, “I absolutely do not rule out the possibility that Jews are, on average, genetically predisposed to be greedy moneylenders”, the speaker would have far fewer defenders? What does that say about her defenders (as a group)? Our society?

    • mark f

      I’m pretty sure the ” do Jews = moneylenders?” “e-mail” was invented by Orin Kerr to illustrate your point.

      • That would be a clever, professorial way to make the point and, given that Kerr is a clever man and a professor, I can’t really argue with you.

    • fledermaus

      actually the history of Jews in finance was largely a result of various prohibitions on what they could do, how much property they could own, if they could enroll in the university. Banking and trade was pretty much all that was open to them.

  • soullite

    Conservatives have always taken the position that Free speech only applies to them, and that any criticism of them is absolute tyranny.

  • c.f. Lance Baxter (the GEICO voice-over actor who got canned).

  • Anon

    Have you ever, in talking privately with some friends, argued a something that you now (with extra age and experience) would find quite reprehensible?

    I hate this Freak Show / Cult of the Offhand Comment / “Kill the pig” culture (to channel Bob Somerby and prove I’m not a conservative troll). Yes, what she said was quite dumb. But if you guys wanna prove how un-racist you all are, go after Steve Sailer or somebody — a public figure.

    • “If you guys wanna prove how un-racist you all are, go after Steve Sailer or somebody – a public figure.”

      The point here isn’t how racist or un-racist somebody is; it’s about conservatives’ suggestion that free speech means they can say racist/bigoted/sexist stuff under the 1st amendment, but that others can’t use same said amendment to criticize them for their offensive ideas.

      • Anon

        Yeah, Palin is stupid and doesn’t understand the First Amendment. My point was that there’s a difference between “criticizing” someone and a feeding frenzy. I personally think that blogging about this non-story is contributing to the frenzy that will ruin this woman’s life, which I find to be distasteful. Some of my family members have said somewhat racist things in private, I don’t think they deserve to have their lives ruined. YMMV.

        I think the frenzy over this random law student is quite similar to Glenn Beck going after Van Jones and other left-associated folks who may have said one or two dumb things once. Breaking: A lot of people believe stupid things, and sometimes they even say them out loud!

        • dave3544

          And type them up in an e-mail the next day! And reaffirm all the racist things they said the night before! And send that e-mail to a group of people who strongly disagree with her! And then expect that e-mail to be kept “private!”


          • Anon

            The email was to a few of her friends. Even if it wasn’t, it is a little gross how the axis of Gawker justifies its feeding frenzies over random people because “hey, she should’ve known better than to write it in an email!” Her doing a dumb thing doesn’t make the feeding frenzy justified.

            • DocAmazing

              This particular dumb thing was said by a very privileged person who is going to be clerk for the Chief Justice of the Ninth Circuit (if memory serves) and who will, in all likelihood, be in positions of power her whole life hereafter. She needs to be called on the carpet now so that either a) she’ll change her thought process, b) be flagged as a potential racist, based on her current performance, or c) stopped in her rise to power. Do we not have enough judegs with white-supremacist and racist tendencies now? Do you see those tendencies as a desirable thing? The comparison with Van Jones is pretty odious: what racism did Van Jones display?

              • Anon

                Wowie wow. I’m glad you know the soul of this lady so well. Your knowledge of her soul is based on just about as much as Glenn Beck’s knowledge of Van Jones’s soul (Van Jones signed a 9/11 Truth petition, btw). Knowing nothing about her, you have decided that she must be “stopped in her rise to power”!

                I know a fellow who I think you’d really like, he’s got a list of Communists in the State Department that you can help him out with.

              • DocAmazing

                I think we’ve got a much bigger problem with white supremacists than with Communists, but thanks for the entertaining false equivalence anyway.

              • Anon

                And your methods for locating them are just as reliable as McCarthy and Beck’s!

              • DocAmazing

                Ah. So calling out a rising star in the legal firmamaent for her document racism is equivalent to McCarthy’s anonymous smears or Glenn Beck’s Red-baiting lunacy.

                Earlier, you mentioned not being a conservative troll. Would you like to withdraw that assertion, in light of the evidency you’ve provided?

              • djw

                anon: I certainly don’t claim to know her soul, and I’m not sure that’s a good read on what’s going on here. At any rate, this whole thing seems absolutely simple and straightforward to me–I’d rather live in a world in which people who put odious racist shit out there into the world (even if it’s laundered into “science” as polite people have been trained to do) are called out for it than a world in which everyone collectively shrugs their shoulders. I’m not sure why this needs to be more complicated than that.

  • Matt Stevens

    Yes, there is no right to be exempt from criticism. Yes, her statements were racist.

    Nevertheless, this whole circus stinks. This woman is not a public figure (the fact that she might be one, someday, is too low a bar for me) and forwarding the email was a dick move.

    Look, I teach statistics classes, and when we’ve gotten to principal component and factor analysis I’ve addressed the racist IQ/Bell Curve claims, if only to knock them down. (I think it’s better to address the issue then ignore it; do the latter and the racists will be the only “experts” on the topic.) If a student argued against me, I wouldn’t want her name plastered across the newspapers, and denounced in web sites across the land.

    • rea

      Hell, no, there is no right to hold vile, racist opinions privately, just among the members of your own little circle, without being publicly criticized for them.

      • Matt Stevens

        Y’know, you’re speaking to someone who agrees that the sentiments were vile, who thinks Charles Murray, Steve Sailer et.al. should never write articles or appear on TV without the words “PROFESSIONAL RACIST” under their names.

        But you really think ordinary folks — not public figures — should be denounced in the Boston Globe when they say “vile” things in private settings? That we should rat them out to the Dean and to activist groups for doing so?

        I’m sorry, but that level of self-righteousness and utter disregard for privacy is disgusting.

        • dave3544

          “rat them out to the Dean and to activists groups…”

          So, you’re saying that the recipients of her e-mail maybe could have discussed it privately among themselves and maybe in a larger circle of other white associates, but Heaven forbid “the Man” or any black students find out about it!

          There’s a code among white people, right? We can discuss these things among ourselves, but Lord those other folks are so, so touchy.

    • In legal terms she’s an “involuntary public figure”.

  • Scott Lemieux

    I note here that my criticism was directed at the blogger whose blog was most responsible for spreading the story, not the woman herself. I do think the reaction has been to some degree overblown (I, myself, wouldn’t email her future employer) but the idea that taking offense at racist sentiments should be ipso facto off the table (which is Lat’s argument) is silly.

    • Anon

      “I absolutely do not rule out the possibility that the reaction to this story, on average, has been to some degree overblown. I could also obviously be convinced that by controlling for the right variables.” Just teasing–

  • Pingback: links for 2010-05-03 | Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture()

  • Steve H in SLC

    I’m sorry, but as a progressive, and as someone who values free thought, inquiry, and discussion, I am absolutely sick to my stomach seeing the so-called “liberals” react to this e-mail, tarring someone as racist for daring to consider possibilities (which have never been conclusively proved one way or the other), and calling for someone to lose her job because of a private e-mail that did not even express any negative opinion about anyone.

    Obviously, anyone who expresses an opinion is subject to criticism for it (though I’m not sure how far this goes when the expression is by a private citizen in a private e-mail). And obviously bloggers are free to suggest that anyone should be denied public employment for any reason.

    But in my view, if you are going to tar someone as racist for an e-mail that merely asks questions, or suggest that the e-mailer should lose her employment because of it, you lose the right to call yourself a progressive. You have now become a conservative, and the worst sort.

    • thewayoftheid

      …and this comment pretty much explains why I hesitate to call myself a liberal. Miss Grace’s take on eugenics has been disproven time and time again by people who are ACTUAL SCIENTISTS. And whether you like it or not her ill-informed opinion IS news, because one day that racist cornball douchebag may one day wield a considerable amount of power in the judicial system.

      • Anon

        Have you ever offered a private opinion on a subject, to friends, when you hadn’t quite reviewed all the relevant scientific and statistical literature on it?

        • Have you done so, admitted your ignorance, but then insisted that you could not rule out your (bigoted) position unless your friends disproved it?

      • Steve H in SLC

        This is not meant to be argumentative, but can you point me to these reports or studies by actual scientists that you believe disprove anything in the e-mail?

        I would love for the world to be such that every person on earth has the exact same genetic predisposition for intelligence. I would love to see proof that the conclusions of books like The Bell Curve are not just inadequately supported or poorly reasoned, but actually inaccurate as an empirical matter.

        But whenever issues like this come up, I don’t see such proof. Instead I see denunciation, a priori rejection of theories, and assorted hysterics that remind me of The Emperor’s New Clothes.

        So, please, if you have a link or two you could throw my way, I’d greatly appreciate it.

        • Warren Terra

          My understanding is that evidence from separated twins indicates that there is a genetic influence on intelligence. But the environmental influences are at least as strong. Moreover, there’s the questions of degree, and of individuals: () how different are the average levels of intelligence for different identifiable groups, whatever the sources of those differences, and (2) given those different average levels of intelligence between identifiable groups, whatever the sources of those differences, how strongly do they predict the intelligence of an individual member of those groups?

          The answers to those questions, unsurprisingly, are (1) not huge, and (2) really weakly. Given these, this whole issue is often not very useful, especially in the lay community outside of a highly academic discussion of the nature of intelligence, and not really worth bringing up, especially given their incendiary potential. The far stronger evidence for environmental influences, i.e. things that actually can be addressed, seems much more important.

          Also, while I often hate the touchy-feely “different kinds of intelligence” conversation, as it can often seem a dodge to avoud poor test scores, there is some evidence that a distinct subset of children have a potential for high intelligence coupled with the risk of very low intelligence: these so-called “hothouse flowers” can be exemplars of intellectual beauty if properly treated, or can be the metaphorical mulch of the intellectual greenhouse. This sort of phenomenon can really mess with attempts to separate environmental and genetic contributions to intelligence.

          • Zedster

            Race is not genetic. The end.

        • ss

          Stephen Jay Gould, “The Mismeasure of Man”. In an odd coincidence, also worked at Harvard.

          • Anonymous

            The last chapter of that book is a by-the-numbers takedown of I.Q. as a valid statistical concept.

            Also, “The Bell Curve Debate” was published as a response, and includes a chapter by Gould that nicely recapitulates his work on the problems of I.Q. measurement.

            • ss

              For that matter, race is not a valid biological concept either. There was an excellent PBS series that did exactly this; unfortunately it is not easily obtained. In any case, one need only observe that in the US, the Irish were once considered an inferior race, and now are just considered white.

              So I guess the bottom line is that “Race X is genetically more intelligent than race Y” is poorly-defined garbage.

              • Zedster

                Thank you. All the “intellectual curiosity” proponents in this debate continue to operate under the false assumption that race is genetic. Phenotype is genetic, “race” is social. The category of race changes depending on time, politics, and situation. It’d make as much sense as saying IQ is related to one’s country of citizenship (and why not look for an “American” gene, while we’re at it?).

                Why not posit the idea the ability to speak Old Norse is tied to IQ?”

        • First you are implicating a logical fallacy by reversing the burden of proof and demanding that others prove a negative.

          Second, the issue is not whether people will jump to your demand that they disprove a bigoted assertion. The issue is, why would you make a bigoted assertion for which you admit to having no empirical evidence, then insist that it’s reasonable to hold that position until others disprove it?

          Third, the issue is not whether there is a genetic factor involved in intelligence. The assertion was that African Americans, as a group, are genetically predisposed to have lower intelligence. Surely you can see the difference.

          I suggest you brush up on the basics of logical argument.

    • djw

      But in my view, if you are going to tar someone as racist for an e-mail that merely asks questions,

      People have been using the rhetoric and trappings of science to launder racist beliefs for hundreds of years. If being a liberal means I have to take everyone who engages in this age-old practice very very seriously as long as they frame it as JAQing off “just asking questions,” I suppose I’ll just have to find some other label.

      • Steve H in SLC


        Sure, but for *thousands* of years, institutions and individuals have used the accusation “Heresy!” to squelch inquiry into matters where they are afraid the answer will challenge their dearly held beliefs.

        Anyway, nice sleight of hand with the whole “trappings of science” line. Her e-mail asked questions and tried to reason out — she did not use the trappings of science to advocate racist beliefs or racist policies. If there were something in that e-mail suggesting that the writer felt that members of one race were entitled to lesser rights than members of another because of their lack of intelligence, then your point might be valid.

        But she didn’t, and there is absolutely no evidence that the writer advocates anything like that.

        Finally, I don’t think you have to take the writer “very very seriously.” She’s just some law student having a private conversation. My point is that she should be treated just like that – no more, and no less.

        • DocAmazing

          She’s “just some law student” who’s going to be clerk for Judge Kocinski of the Ninth Circuit. She’s “just some law student” who studied extensively under an exper on the study of race in the US as an undergraduate.

          She wan’t trying to reason any thing out; she was rationalizing her belief in her own superiority. Read the email; it’s pretty clear.

          Yeah, I think she’s gotten a fraction of what she deserves.

          • djw

            Right: as has been pointed out above, the component concepts here (“race” and “IQ”) aren’t valid biological concepts. The very framing she engages either comes from a place of deep ignorance or bigotry, as Orin Kerr was, I expect, trying to point out with the Jews as greedy money-lenders example. I’m absolutely at a loss to make sense of Steve H and Anderson’s conviction that the quality of democratic discourse would be improved by pretending otherwise.

            • Steve H in SLC

              First of all, once you start saying things like “race and IQ aren’t valid biological concepts, it just shows that you are trying so hard to avoid admitting certain things that you are willing to deny what is plainly in front of your face. This gets us back to the whole “Emperor’s New Clothes” thing.

              Maybe the word “race” should be disused because of horrible historical connotations, but whatever word or phrase is used to replace it, the fact remains that there are certain very large groups of people who are much more likely to share certain biological traits with others of the same group, and less likely to share those traits with members of other groups. Whether you want to call these groups “races” is irrelevant, what is relevant is that these large-group differences do exist, and they exist biologically.

              Anyway, I think our democratic discourse would be improved by backing off people like Ms. Grace for two reasons. First, discourse is better if people are allowed to ask questions about things — especially things that are unsettled — without being called heretics. That is how the process of knowledge is advanced. Ask Galileo. (No, I am not claiming that Stephanie Grace herself is similar to Galileo. I’m thinking more of the reaction and the apparent desire to punish inquiry.)

              The second reason is that public discourse is better if that discourse is honest. Calling Ms. Grace or her e-mail racist is simply not honest. She did not say in that e-mail that any individual was inferior to, or less morally worthy, than any other individual on the basis of membership in a group. She did not say that members of one group were inferior to, or less morally worthy than, members of another group. She did not say that any individual or members of any group were entitled to lesser rights or privileges on the basis of membership in a group.

              She said nothing racist. So the accusations of racism based on the contents of the e-mail are false. False accusations interfere with public discourse.

              If this e-mail were written by a member of the National Lawyers’ Guild instead of the Federalist Society, or she were going to clerk for a prominent liberal judge instead of Kozinski (assuming such a creature exists these days), do you think the e-mail would have drawn the same response?

              • DocAmazing

                I hardly know where to start.

                the fact remains that there are certain very large groups of people who are much more likely to share certain biological traits with others of the same group, and less likely to share those traits with members of other groups

                Those are called genotypes, not races, and they exist completely independently of the visible characteristics that are called “race”. Ask a Sicilian with sickle-cell disease about that race thing. Leave biology to those who’ve studied it.

                discourse is better if people are allowed to ask questions about things — especially things that are unsettled — without being called heretics

                There’s nothing “heretical” about racism–it was official government policiy in many states within the memory of my parents. Trying to cast racial supremacist thought as reasoned rebellion is exactly what Scott was writing about above when he wrote about the ridiculous idea that “people who defend existing social privileges are the real iconoclasts”.

                She did not say in that e-mail that any individual was inferior to, or less morally worthy, than any other individual on the basis of membership in a group.

                Did you read her email? The one that argued that white people were intellectually superior to black ones, and men intellectually superior (in math, anyway) to women? Reading comprehension failure, sport. Back to the frat with you.

          • Anderson

            who studied extensively under an expert on the study of race in the US as an undergraduate

            Who is this expert, btw?

            • DocAmazing

              She did thesis work with Espenshade at Princeton; her major was Sociology, f’Chrissake!

              The woman should have known better.

              • Anderson

                Possibly a sociologist is not much of an authority on *biological* subjects?

                His past research has concentrated on social demography, with a particular emphasis on population economics, mathematical demography, family and household demography, and contemporary immigration to the United States.

                That’s not the first, second, or thirtieth person I would turn to for an explanation of why human intelligence is unlikely to have any biological, versus environmental, tie to one’s “race.”

                … Thoreau over at UQO demonstrates that it’s actually possible to talk about this subject, *and* that a person who’s actually informed on the topic is likely to qualify his or her assessments (racial superiority in intelligence “very likely false”).

              • DocAmazing

                What part of “mathematical demography” would skip over the question of racially-inherited intelligence?

                It’s possible to talk about anything, but playing “some say the earth is round, but opinons differ” is merely giving credence to agenda-drive ideologues and idiots.

  • Warren Terra

    While I think it’s obvious there’s nothing illegal about disseminating this woman’s name while criticizing her racist comments, I don’t see why it’s useful. I’d rather she be educated than destroyed.

  • Warren Terra

    That said, her “MY babies will be beautiful geniuses even if raised in the heart of darkness” was a thing of clueless beauty. Maybe it was meant as self-deprecating irony, but if so that wasn’t clear.

  • map106

    Okay, I’ll try, in my white, intelligent way to make this concise and rational.

    I don’t even understand why this question of intelligence “superiority” needs to be answered (well, I do understand, but I don’t from an objective standpoint).

    If, indeed, scientists prove that whites are genetically more intelligent than blacks, what’s going to be done with that information, other than what has been historically done.

    It’s not as if the people interested in proving white superiority are then going to suggest that we make a concerted effort to improve the educational and environmental possibilities of the “inferiors”. That’s just affirmative action all over again, and they’ve already bitched about that.

    But my real question is: how does this “superiority” devolve to the individual? How does “white superiority” in intelligence make (or guarantee), one individual white person more intelligent than an individual black person (or yellow or red…)?

    It’s the same crap with American exceptionalism. Just because our Forefathers came up with a system of government that, on paper, sounds better than others, how does that make me better than a Scot, a Mexican, a Nigerian–merely because I had the fortune to be born in this country almost two hundred years later?

    I just don’t get it.

    • MS

      Yep. One of the very few things I still agree with Ayn Rand about (I’m a recovering Objectivist): in one of her rare lucid moments she pointed out that, even if you could prove that whites were, on average, more intelligent than blacks, a white moron would still be a moron and a black genius would still be a genius.

      • Anderson

        And the moron would be an Objectivist.

  • Anderson

    Well, whatever else it proves, the “excellent take” at the linked post certainly shows that Jill @ Feministing is an asshole.

    There are certain ideas that just do not belong in the realm of serious intellectual conversation, and this is one of them.

    Um, no. I can think of some such ideas, but whether or not there might be some racial component to intelligence is not one of them.

    The way science works is that people try to prove or disprove hypotheses. A taboo issue is thus one on which there *is* no scientific knowledge. So proving the racists wrong becomes impossible.

    Stephanie Grace may be a racist, but racism is pretty common actually. And if the quality of her interlocutors’ discussion was anything like the comment threads I’ve seen, it’s no fucking wonder that she didn’t hear anything to change her mind on the subject.

    But then, changing people’s minds requires patience, persuasiveness, and some trouble to ascertain facts. Much easier just to comment how racist she is.

    • DocAmazing

      As Jill and others pointed out, and as you seem to have missed, Stepahnie Grace had enough education as an undergraduate (under a professor for whom the study of race was a specialty) that she should know better. In other words, her “scientific racism” exists in spite of, not because of what she studied. It may surprise you, but anthropologists, sociologists and psychologists have delved into this issue quite a bit, and there are many, many good papers on the subject. (Google is your friend. Use it.)

      This subject left the realm of serious intellectual conversation quite some time ago, and has been kept alive mostly by VDARE types, who are seeking a set of rationalizations for their white supremacy. Ms. Grace was educated enough to have been made quite aware of that. Evidently, her education failed to take.

      • Anderson

        Oh gosh, where to look for a rejoinder? — Here:

        There Is No Right to be Exempt From Criticism

        Those who — correctly, I think — deny any nontrivial racial component to intelligence, are not exempt from criticism.

        Sure, scientists agree with me; but last time I checked, it was still okay for scientists to challenge established theories?

        Creationism is infinitely stupider than a racial element to intelligence, but that doesn’t stop scientists (and others) from writing books refuting it, and it’s not considered beneath discussion. The correct response to a friend’s belief in racism ought to be “here’s a book you ought to read” (Gould was mentioned), instead of “you racist! begone!” The latter reaction suggests an irrationally held belief (as the Steve Sailers have no trouble pointing out).

        I hate it when the reality-based community starts acting like the faith-based community. Reread your J.S. Mill, girls and boys. Noxious opinions are not to be opposed by noxious criticisms.

        • DocAmazing

          So should a Creationist applying for a job as a biology instructor get a pass on his/her clearly at-right-angles-to-science beliefs from the hiring committee?

          It’s settled science. Mocking it is fun, but it doesn’t constitute a scientific conversation. Likewise, racial supremacy questions are settled science. We can mock them, but to pretend that they are not settled science–particularly if, like Ms. Grace, you have been exposed tot he science in question–is mere posturing and stupidity. Nothing faith-based in that.

        • Linnaeus

          The correct response to a friend’s belief in racism ought to be “here’s a book you ought to read” (Gould was mentioned), instead of “you racist! begone!” The latter reaction suggests an irrationally held belief (as the Steve Sailers have no trouble pointing out).

          But the particular belief should also be pointed out as being racist, which justifies the suggestion to go read the book or whatever.

          In the days of my youth, I held a number of beliefs that I no longer hold. Part of the reason I don’t is because I had the opportunity to learn and change my mind, and I was motivated to so because I was challenged to do so. And that meant, for example, when I said something racist, I was told that it was racist.

    • rea

      Jeez, another guy who thinks we need to examine seriously the idea that the organs of thought are in the epidermis rather than the brain.

      • Zedster

        Well said!

  • pdf23ds

    Is there a Talk.Origins FAQ for the intelligence-race-disparities issue?

  • lt

    I wonder how many of the oh-so-concerned about this student being held accountable for her ideas can muster some sympathy for the African-American law students at Harvard who have to wonder how many of their classmates rushing to defend her believe this crap. Crap which is not a hypothetical but has been used to justify slavery, genocide and discrimination. There was another post at Jill’s site from a black HLS grad talking about how much racism flies at places like that under the guise of ‘hey! it’s just a debate! and as long as I can make a logical-sounding argument, it’s all good!”

    But hey, people are just to sensitive to racism! It’s not like that’s actually hurtful, right? The only victims are nice white people who have their goodness questioned, right?

    • Girl

      Preach! I so agree!

  • Girl

    @Anon – She made her initial statements in PUBLIC at a Harvard event and from what I understand her comments were not well received. She then wrote an email to clarify her points.

    I know people are rushing to her defense because they don’t want her life ruined and neither do I but with that said, she will have a job in the court system where she will be making rulings and policies. If she believes that black people are possible inferior, how could it effect her rulings? Especially since we know that there already is a huge disparity in the incarecation rates and sentencing rates of black criminals and white criminals (for the same crimes). With whites generally getting the better end of the deal. How do her beliefs fair for her future clients and the court that she works for?

    I’ll spare you the speech about race being a social construct which didn’t exist until someone decided to categorize humans. Being born white or black (or Asian, etc) doesn’t inherently make someone more or less smart. It is the environment that you are likely to live in based on that race. I am going to speak in generalizations for a moment, bear with me. Being born white means you are more likely to live in stable middle class home and go to a good high school then on to a good university. The point I am making isn’t that just being born white make you “smarter.”

    Lastly, she doesn’t get a pass just for being young. That is not a good enough excuse sorry.

  • Anderson

    “Complete liberty of contradicting and disproving our opinion, is the very condition which justifies us in assuming its truth for purposes of action; and on no other terms can a being with human faculties have any rational assurance of being right.”

    — Mill, On Liberty.

    • dave3544

      Exactly. When someone advances the argument that black people are genetically inferior to white people, the only appropriate response is to thank her for challenging our most cherished beliefs and providing us the opportunity to re-examine our premises.

      As I am always saying, what we on the left, what with our assumptions of racial equality, really need is young people on the precipice of real power in our society to ask the same old questions about race so that we can all have a chance to sharpen our wits. So Hazzah! to you Stephanie Grace, may you always have the courage to keep making the racist statements that challenge us all!

      • Anderson

        Or, you could just make a sarcastic reply suggesting that you don’t actually know whether one race is “genetically inferior” (?) or not.

        Really, this whole discussion is “epistemic closure” on the left side. Do any of you people actually know any conservatives? Have any racists in your family? Do you have any manner of talking to people with wrong beliefs other than accusing them of heresy?

        No wonder the Left is where it is today. We’re supposed to be the side that knows how to actually discuss things. Apparently we’re becoming photographic negatives of Glen Beck.

        • dave3544

          Oh, for the love of Pete!

          Look, Ms. Grace made her original comments, got hollered at, debated with, educated, and shamed. According to her e-mail, she backed off her beliefs during that initial event. She then sat down at a computer, a computer one assumes was connected to the internet, and then went ahead and re-“asked” all the racist questions that people had apparently already talked with her about.

          Quit pretending like Ms. Grace was making some sort of bold stand for scientific or cultural questioning. These questions are ancient and have been answered again and again. She could have done some minimal research if she really wanted to know the answers to her “questions.” Hell, she might have even found some scholarly points to back her up, but she did not.

          As for the personal questions…yeah, I have racist relatives. When they start spouting off, I tell them that what they say is offensive. If they persist I leave the room, hoping that others will follow my example. What I don’t do is try to have some conversation with them where I take their views about chicken and watermelon seriously.

          • Schwartz

            ***Hell, she might have even found some scholarly points to back her up, but she did not. ***

            She said it was possible – as David Friedman or Peter Singer have observed, that seems a possible implication of diverse evolution.

        • lt

          Actually, Anderson, your comment is not an effective condemnation of “the Left,” but it sure does remind me why I call myself a progressive or Leftist rather than a liberal.

          The world is not a debating society. Debates don’t take place in a vacuum, and they are not an end in and of themselves, but something we use to craft a vision of a better world – more humane and more just. And it’s not so bloody hard to see that if you have the experience of belonging to a group whose right to exist and basic humanity has been questioned, or if you just try to empathize for five minutes with what that feels like.

        • DocAmazing

          Gravity: just a theory. Ask Anderson. He’ll tell you: we need to engage very seriously with those who deny its existence.

          • Anderson

            Oh, and since you mock people unfamiliar with scientific theories and evidence, you might want to know that the “theory of gravity” changed pretty drastically around 1916. And who’s to say it won’t change again this century?

            Demonstrating that liberals and progressives can be just as intolerant as Tea Partiers — that’s quite an accomplishment. Lots to be proud of, threadsters.

            • DocAmazing

              You would be referring to the work that followed from Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity. That’s very neat and all, but like most of the physics that it gave rise to, it has very little bearing on the observable world–just on the way we model the infinite and the infinitesimal. To calculate, for example, the trajectory of a rocket, we still use Newtonian physics.

              In other words, those who attempt to obfuscate by bringing up the rare and the wonderful when the question before them is very simple–“Is there any evidence for a racial component to intelligence that would withstand serious scrutiny?” are unlikely to provide a coherent argument. They’ll just dodge, weave, point to the irrelevant, and perpetuate the same pernicious misinformation they shovelled at you before. Engaging them once or twice is an entertatining exercise. Beyond that, it’s mere pig-wrestling.

        • djw

          Anderson, does Andrew Sullivan’s roundtable on The Bell Curve in TNR get your Millian stamp of approval?

          (This looks like a snarky little gotcha question, I have no doubt, and I suppose it partly is, but I am also legitimately interested in your response).

  • Anderson

    Sorry folks. You have attitudes; I have principles, which occasionally have the effect of giving a break to someone with whom I disagree.

    I realize you never have that experience, so you don’t understand what I’m talking about.

    • DocAmazing


    • djw

      I think we all deploy charitable readings and attitudes towards others occasionally but not necessarily consistently. In this particular case, given the history (and historical success!) of the laundering of racist views through the language and trappings of scientific discourse, I’m not particularly troubled by people *not* cutting her a break in this case.

      If I actually believed that you believed our disagreement on this particular case rendered me a hopeless dogmatist incapable of exhibiting any interpretive charity to anyone with whom I disagreed, I’d find that pretty frustrating. But I’m pretty sure you don’t actually believe that and engaging in some rhetoric excess.

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  • map106

    Want to talk about epistemic closure?

    In all of this conversation, there’s never the consideration of (c) in the following group of possibilities:

    (a) Whites are smarter than Blacks.
    (b) Whites and blacks are of equal intelligence.
    (c) Blacks are smarter than Whites.

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